France: Bayeux – Normandy

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I only stayed in Caen for the morning because my main destination was the farm more charming town of Bayeux. Bayeux has a long and interesting history: the first Norman King (and ancestor of like every single European monarch), takes his wife from Bayeux, the priceless Bayeux Tapestry is housed here, and during WWII it was the first town to be liberated during the Battle of Normandy. It’s also extremely cute.

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Normandy is named for the Norsemen that settled there during the 10th century under the leadership of the viking Rollo. Rollo takes as his wife Popa of Bayeux and they jump start a lineage that runs down through William the Conqueror, through the courts of Europe, all the way to today’s English Queen.

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One of Rollo’s important decedents is William the Conqueror, who invades England and becomes the first Norman King of England in 1066 AD. He commissioned a tapestry to detail his heroic victory at the Battle of Hastings in order to tell all the illiterate peasants how great he is. The tapestry is 70 meters long and has miraculously survived 900 years of tumultuous European history. During the French Revolution, it was used to cover a munitions wagons like it was some common tarpaulin, but a bystander spotted it and whisked it away to safety.

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The tapestry is really an embroidery and it’s likely the physical creation of it was done by woman needleworkers. Naturally the male commissioners get all the credit, but hats off to the ladies who made this amazing and enduring piece of art.

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The entirety of Bayeux is quaint and charming, like the town scenes from Beauty and the Beast. It avoided a lot of damage during the war, so lots of the old world charm remains. The highlight for me are the canals that run through the town, with waterwheels and willows kissing the water.

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For lunch, I ate at Le Moulin De La Galette, a canal side restaurant that has a terrace garden over the water. I’m glad I worked up the nerve to eat here because the atmosphere, food, and service was wonderful. I ordered everything in French (horribly), which delighted my waiter. I ordered a galette a la Normandie, which is a buckwheat crepe with local trademark foods: camembert cheese, apples, and l’andouille di vire, a pork intestine sausage.

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There isn’t too much to do in Bayeux exactly, but it’s endlessly charming to walk around. I spent some time at a D-Day museum and the Cathedral, but pretty much just spent my day walking around and having coffee at street-side cafes.

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The room I stayed in was absolutely amazing. It was an airbnb room in the home of a family that has been living in Bayeux for generations. The host told me that the building has an establishment plaque from the 1600s and it’s evident in the room, sagging ceiling timbers and lots of heirloom furniture. It’s basically my dream home.

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Because there is not a ton to do in Bayeux, especially in the evening, I treated myself to a “chill” vacation where I didn’t obsess about sight-seeing. Instead, I spent a lot of time soaking up the vibes in my room, eating cheese and sausage I got at the farmer’s market, and drinking supermarket wine.

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Normandy is crazy for apples and so they have all kinds of drinks made out of them. First there is plain old apple juice, then there is apple cider (which is alcoholic with a slightly more bitter aftertaste than English cider- this kind is better), then there is Calvados, which is their really amazing apple liquor, and then Pommeau (a mix of Calvados and apple juice) which I had an entire bottle of, much to my delight.

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I had that bottle of pommeau while sitting in the window of my room, overlooking the cafes below, just like I’m pretty sure all French people do every night.

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